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Air evacuation from combat zones may worsen brain injury

Traumatic brain injury has become one of the most significant veterans' issues as over 330,000 U.S. troops suffered this injury over the last 15 years. It has become one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries related to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent study is alarming because it concludes that air evacuation of wounded soldiers may have caused further harm to those with brain injuries.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine study uncovered evidence that exposure to reduced barometric pressure, occurring on military transport planes during medical evacuation, greatly worsens neurological function as well as increases the loss of brain cells even when oxygen levels are maintained in a normal range. The researchers raised concerns about the military's increased use of early air evacuation and its risks should be evaluated against the benefits of comprehensive medical care after evacuation.

In this research, rats that were subjected to TBI were exposed to hypobaria, or lowered air pressure, at levels that simulated conditions during air transport and received extra oxygen to restore normal oxygen concentrations in the blood. Animals in another part of the study received oxygen at a concentration occurring during evacuation.

Lowered air pressure worsens TBI by increasing brain inflammation that occurs after injury, according to the researchers. They are testing treatments, such as breathing pure oxygen, that may reduce air evacuation risks.

Veterans may need legal assistance to receive long-term medical care and other benefits as more information is uncovered concerning TBI and other injuries. Knowledgeable legal advice can help veterans deal effectively with the Veterans' Administration.

Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine, "University of Maryland School of Medicine study finds that air evacuation may do further harm in patients with brain injury," Accessed Jan. 18, 2016

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